1916 - Ernest Henry Shackleton
Stromness Whaling-Station, South Georgia
At 1.30 p.m. we climbed round a final ridge and saw a little steamer, a whaling-boat, entering the bay 2500 ft. below. A few moments later, as we hurried forward, the masts of a sailing-ship lying at a wharf came in sight. Minute figures moving to and fro about the boats caught our gaze, and then we saw the sheds and factory of Stromness whaling-station. We paused and shook hands, a form of mutual congratulation that had seemed necessary on four other occasions in the course of the expedition. The first time was when we landed on Elephant Island, the second when we reached South Georgia, and the third when we reached the ridge and saw the snow-slope stretching below on the first day of the overland journey, then when we saw Husvik rocks.
Cautiously we started down the slope that led to warmth and comfort. The last lap of the journey proved extraordinarily difficult. Vainly we searched for a safe, or a reasonably safe, way down the steep ice-clad mountain-side. The sole possible pathway seemed to be a channel cut by water running from the upland. Down through icy water we followed the course of this stream. We were wet to the waist, shivering, cold, and tired. Presently our ears detected an unwelcome sound that might have been musical under other conditions. It was the splashing of a waterfall, and we were at the wrong end. When we reached the top of this fall we peered over cautiously and discovered that there was a drop of 25 or 30 ft., with impassable ice-cliffs on both sides. To go up again was scarcely thinkable in our utterly wearied condition. The way down was through the waterfall itself. We made fast one end of our rope to a boulder with some difficulty, due to the fact that the rocks had been worn smooth by the running water. Then Worsley and I lowered Crean, who was the heaviest man. He disappeared altogether in the falling water and came out gasping at the bottom. I went next, sliding down the rope, and Worsley, who was the lightest and most nimble member of the party, came last. At the bottom of the fall we were able to stand again on dry land. The rope could not be recovered. We had flung down the adze from the top of the fall and also the logbook and the cooker wrapped in one of our blouses. That was all, except our wet clothes, that we brought out of the Antarctic, which we had entered a year and a half before with well-found ship, full equipment, and high hopes. That was all of tangible things; but in memories we were rich. We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had “suffered, starved, and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” We had seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.
Shivering with cold, yet with hearts light and happy, we set off towards the whaling-station, now not more than a mile and a half distant. The difficulties of the journey lay behind us. We tried to straighten ourselves up a bit, for the thought that there might be women at the station made us painfully conscious of our uncivilized appearance. Our beards were long and our hair was matted. We were unwashed and the garments that we had worn for nearly a year without a change were tattered and stained. Three more unpleasant-looking ruffians could hardly have been imagined. Worsley produced several safety-pins from some corner of his garments and effected some temporary repairs that really emphasized his general disrepair. Down we hurried, and when quite close to the station we met two small boys ten or twelve years of age. I asked these lads where the manager’s house was situated. They did not answer. They gave us one look - a comprehensive look that did not need to be repeated. Then they ran from us as fast as their legs would carry them. We reached the outskirts of the station and passed through the “digesting-house,” which was dark inside. Emerging at the other end, we met an old man, who started as if he had seen the Devil himself and gave us no time to ask any question. He hurried away. This greeting was not friendly. Then we came to the wharf, where the man in charge stuck to his station. I asked him if Mr. Sorlle (the manager) was in the house.
“Yes,” he said as he stared at us.
“We would like to see him,” said I.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“We have lost our ship and come over the island,” I replied.
“You have come over the island?” he said in a tone of entire disbelief.
The man went towards the manager’s house and we followed him. I learned afterwards that he said to Mr. Sorlle: “There are three funny-looking men outside, who say they have come over the island and they know you. I have left them outside.” A very necessary precaution from his point of view.
Mr. Sorlle came out to the door and said, “Well?”
“Don’t you know me?” I said.
“I know your voice,” he replied doubtfully. “You’re the mate of the Daisy.”
“My name is Shackleton,” I said.
Immediately he put out his hand and said, “Come in. Come in.”
“Tell me, when was the war over?” I asked.
“The war is not over,” he answered. “Millions are being killed. Europe is mad. The world is mad.”
Mr. Sorlle’s hospitality had no bounds. He would scarcely let us wait to remove our freezing boots before he took us into his house and gave us seats in a warm and comfortable room. We were in no condition to sit in anybody’s house until we had washed and got into clean clothes, but the kindness of the station-manager was proof even against the unpleasantness of being in a room with us. He gave us coffee and cakes in the Norwegian fashion, and then showed us upstairs to the bathroom, where we shed our rags and scrubbed ourselves luxuriously.
Mr. Sorlle’s kindness did not end with his personal care for the three wayfarers who had come to his door. While we were washing he gave orders for one of the whaling-vessels to be prepared at once in order that it might leave that night for the other side of the island and pick up the three men there. The whalers knew King Haakon Bay, though they never worked on that side of the island. Soon we were clean again. Then we put on delightful new clothes supplied from the station stores and got rid of our superfluous hair. Within an hour or two we had ceased to be savages and had become civilized men again. Then came a splendid meal, while Mr. Sorlle told us of the arrangements he had made and we discussed plans for the rescue of the main party on Elephant Island.
I arranged that Worsley should go with the relief ship to show the exact spot where the carpenter and his two companions were camped, while I started to prepare for the relief of the party on Elephant Island. The whaling-vessel that was going round to King Haakon Bay was expected back on the Monday morning, and was to call at Grytviken Harbour, the port from which we had sailed in December 1914, in order that the magistrate resident there might be informed of the fate of the Endurance. It was possible that letters were awaiting us there. Worsley went aboard the whaler at ten o’clock that night and turned in. The next day the relief ship entered King Haakon Bay and he reached Peggotty Camp in a boat. The three men were delighted beyond measure to know that we had made the crossing in safety and that their wait under the upturned James Caird was ended. Curiously enough, they did not recognize Worsley, who had left them a hairy, dirty ruffian and had returned his spruce and shaven self. They thought he was one of the whalers. When one of them asked why no member of the party had come round with the relief, Worsley said, “What do you mean?” “We thought the Boss or one of the others would come round,” they explained. “What’s the matter with you?” said Worsley. Then it suddenly dawned upon them that they were talking to the man who had been their close companion for a year and a half. Within a few minutes the whalers had moved our bits of gear into their boat. They towed off the James Caird and hoisted her to the deck of their ship. Then they started on the return voyage. Just at dusk on Monday afternoon they entered Stromness Bay, where the men of the whaling-station mustered on the beach to receive the rescued party and to examine with professional interest the boat we had navigated across 800 miles of the stormy ocean they knew so well.
When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.
Our first night at the whaling-station was blissful. Crean and I shared a beautiful room in Mr. Sorlle’s house, with electric light and two beds, warm and soft. We were so comfortable that we were unable to sleep. Late at night a steward brought us tea, bread and butter and cakes, and we lay in bed, revelling in the luxury of it all. Outside a dense snow-storm, which started two hours after our arrival and lasted until the following day, was swirling and driving about the mountain-slopes. We were thankful indeed that we had made a place of safety, for it would have gone hard with us if we had been out on the mountains that night. Deep snow lay everywhere when we got up the following morning.
After breakfast Mr. Sorlle took us round to Husvik in a motor-launch. We were listening avidly to his account of the war and of all that had happened while we were out of the world of men. We were like men arisen from the dead to a world gone mad. Our minds accustomed themselves gradually to the tales of nations in arms, of deathless courage and unimagined slaughter, of a world-conflict that had grown beyond all conceptions, of vast red battlefields in grimmest contrast with the frigid whiteness we had left behind us. The reader may not realize quite how difficult it was for us to envisage nearly two years of the most stupendous war of history. The locking of the armies in the trenches, the sinking of the Lusitania, the murder of Nurse Cavell, the use of poison-gas and liquid fire, the submarine warfare, the Gallipoli campaign, the hundred other incidents of the war, almost stunned us at first, and then our minds began to compass the train of events and develop a perspective. I suppose our experience was unique. No other civilized men could have been as blankly ignorant of world-shaking happenings as we were when we reached Stromness Whaling Station.
Shackleton, Ernest Henry